If you can’t be in Munich in October, be in Zell am Ziller, Austria in May. The Gauderfest is Austria’s biggest folk festival showcasing the best Austrian traditions. With a special beer brewed especially for the Gauderfest, it’s safe to say it’s also the biggest beer festival in Austria. Listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, this is one beer festival with a difference. The setting in the beautiful Ziller Valley in the Tyrolean Alps makes it even more attractive.
The Gauderfest at a glance
|Venue||The town centre of Zell am Ziller|
|Date||Every year on the first weekend in May|
|Festival highlight||The Sunday parade featuring Gambrinus the Beer King and over 2,000 participants in traditional dress|
|Entrance fee||Yes, but justified (see below)|
|Accessibility||Easily reached by train, car, and bus|
History of the Gauderfest
The Gauderfest has its roots in the parish fairs (Kirchtage) of more than 600 years ago. It was the first occasion after the winter when people came from their mountain homes to attend holy mass and visit the market in the valley.
The Gauder parish fair in Zell am Ziller in the Tyrolean Ziller Valley was especially popular. Venetian traders mentioned it for the first time as far back as 1428.
I think it’s fair to conclude the local beer was one of the reasons why this parish fair was well-attended. The village brewery, which was on the Gauder estate, opened its doors on the first weekend in May to coincide with the fair. Therefore, the Gauderfest gets its name from the “Gauderlehen” on whose property the original festivities took place.
Treff ma uns am Gauder! – Let’s meet at the Gauder!
2 to 5 May 2019
The brewery still exists today as Zillertal Bier, one of the finest and best-known beer brands in Tyrol. For the Gauderfest, they brew the special Gauder Bock beer. It’s the strongest festival beer in Austria with an alcohol content of 7.8 %. (And I wondered why my head started to spin a little after drinking what I thought was a “normal” beer during our first day at the Gauderfest 😯 .) Brewing of the Gauder Bock starts in September after which it’s left to age until the Gauderfest.
What would a beer festival be without a king? Gambrinus, the patron saint of brewers, is an inseparable part of the Gauderfest. Much to the enjoyment of the crowds, he sits on top of a Zillertal beer barrel on a carriage pulled by horses in the Gauder Parade.
|50,000 – That’s how many litres of Zillertal Gauder Bock were consumed at the Gauderfest in 2018|
The Gauderfest today
Today, the Gauderfest is held over several days to accommodate the thousands of visitors. More than 30,000 people attended the festival in 2018, with around 10,000 watching the big parade on Sunday alone.
What the programme typically looks like
|Wednesday from 14:00||Family afternoon on festival grounds (discounted prices)|
|Thursday from 14:00||Gala dinner in aid of charity|
|Friday from 14:00||Ceremonial tapping of the beer barrel and first draught of Gauder Bock|
|Saturday from 09:30||Youth Parade, traditional craft market, sport tournaments, an animal exhibition|
|Sunday from 10:00||Festival Holy Mass, Gauderfest Parade, craft market|
|Every day||A mobile amusement park with various rides and games is open every day from 14:00 and from 11:00 on the Saturday and Sunday|
|Music and entertainment on various stages|
Read more: Discover the Zillertal High Alpine Road
Gauderfest entrance fees
The village of Zell am Ziller is laid out in such a way that it’s possible to cordon parts off and charge an entrance fee to certain Gauderfest attractions. We had media accreditation with free access to the entire festival but I wouldn’t mind paying the entrance fees. Also, some attractions and events such as the amusement park and the youth parade are free.
For your entrance fee (which differs on the various days) you get access to a craft market with live demonstrations, stages where top Tyrolean and Austrian bands perform, and clean toilets that are well-stocked with toilet paper, handwash and paper towels.
You also see young boys and men fight it out for the title of Ranggeln (a traditional wrestling sport) champion. Lastly, witnessing the colourful and eventful Gauderfest Parade is worth the €10 entrance fee on the Sunday.
Once you’ve paid, you get a festival bracelet to show at the different entry points. On Sunday, I saw officials walking around checking for bracelets as it was harder to monitor access because of the length of the parade route.
|Charity concert||From €21|
|Open festival grounds||€13|
|Open festival grounds and tent||From €23|
|Open festival grounds||€13|
|Open festival grounds and tent||From €17|
|Access to everything (tent from 15:00)||€10|
Tip: It’s possible to book tables in advance for groups from 8 people in the festival tent. There are different packages, some with beer and food included.
Little Dirndl and Lederhosen
We arrived together with hundreds of little girls and boys in their Dirndl dresses and Lederhosen on the Saturday. They came in buses, on the Zillertalbahn steam train, or simply walked from neighbouring villages.
The more than 700 young people showed off their traditional dress along the parade route from the train station to the Zillertal Bier festival tent.
Tip: This parade was free to watch and the streets not as crowded as during the main parade the next day.
Big Gauderfest Parade
This is the absolute highlight and worth every effort to visit the Gauderfest. I’ve seen many traditional Austrian parades but this one stands out. What I love about it is that there are more Tyrolean spectators than foreign tourists – a sign of authenticity.
We arrived early to check out the route and find a good place to stand. The atmosphere is great as people make the most of waiting by “breakfasting” on freshly baked Breze (pretzels), sausages, Gauder Bock, and something stronger from the barrel of the many Schnapps carrying “Mädels”.
Once the parade starts and the bands and folk dress groups begin to pass, it’s incredible how quickly time passes. Even so, it takes at least 2 hours for the parade to end (sometimes we had to wait for the train to pass 😆 ).
More than 84 groups from as far as Slovenia participated in the 2018 parade. They included brass bands, rifle companies, horses, and traditional dress clubs. Each village, valley or region’s folk costumes are unique and tell a story. Some were designed for special days, such as parish fairs, and others are simpler.
An 86-year old man weaving cloth on a 200-year old hand loom weaver is something that makes an impression. And so does an elderly lady painstakingly making lace. Or a young boy who is learning the trade of making Ranzen, the wide belts you see Tyrolean men wear with their Lederhosen.
This is what you’ll get to witness at the craft market or Gauder Markt. The artists are all keen to answer questions (some may not understand English but I’m sure you’ll easily find a willing interpreter nearby).
Most interesting titbit I learned at the Gauderfest: The Ranzen were originally designed to protect the waist area against stab wounds. And the “thread” with which the delicate patterns on them are sewn is made out of birds’ feathers.
The belts are passed down from generation to generation. We saw one dating to 1803. However, if you want a custom-made new one, the waiting period is at least one year. Find out more about Zillertaler Ranzen here.
Wrestling with Ranggeln
The big sports attraction at the Gauderfest is a tournament called Ranggeln. It looks a lot like wrestling to me but I was told it’s more of a mixture of wrestling and judo. According to one organiser, it’s also the oldest fighting sport in the Germanic world.
Zillertal Bier Festival Tent
Think Munich Oktoberfest tents but filled with people in authentic traditional costumes, drinking the strongest festival beer in Austria. This is where we had lunch with the parade participants. On the menu? Schnitzel and potatoe salad on the Saturday, Schweinsbraten (roast pork) and Krautsalat (cabbage salad) on the Sunday. You can’t ask for more traditional Austrian festival fare.
Of course, the amusement park with swings, bumper cars, and all those machines that swallow your money, was like a magnet for M. I found it fascinating to watch the modern rides filled with children looking as if they stepped out of a previous century. It was quite a contrast!
Getting to Zell am Ziller
Getting to Zell am Ziller for the Gauderfest is very easy. If you’re coming from outside the Ziller Valley, my recommendation is to take the train. The Zillertalbahn (Ziller Valley Railway) runs between Jenbach and Mayrhofen, stopping at all the Ziller Valley villages in between.
The Zillertalbahn is not the quickest but there are pretty scenery and villages outside the train window. On Gauderfest weekend there is also a lot of people-watching to do. We saw entire marching bands get onto the train and pouring their first Schnapps of the day.
Getting to Jenbach (in the Inn Valley between Innsbruck and Kufstein) is easy by train or car. On day one we took the train from Hall in Tirol (just outside Innsbruck) to Jenbach and the Zillertalbahn from there. The entire journey took about 1 h 30 mins, including a 30-minute wait in Jenbach. The return journey was much quicker when we only had 6 minutes to change trains.
On day 2 we took to the car to Jenbach. If you buy your train tickets at the station, you get a free parking ticket for the park and ride area.
Read more: Hike to the Olperer Hut for the best views of the Zillertal Alps
The Zell am Ziller train station is in the village, only minutes away from all the Gauderfest happenings. You won’t get closer by car. In fact, car parking is arranged at the Zillertal Arena a few kilometres away. Visitors are shuttled from there to Zell am Ziller by bus. Just remember if you come by car you risk traffic jams in the valley on busy tourist days.
Tip: The old Zillertal steam locomotive still runs in the valley but only over weekends in low season and once a day in the high season. Find all the timetables for the Zillertalbahn as well as the Zillertal buses here. To find and book connections online, click here.
Where to stay for the Gauderfest
With more than 6000 overnight stays booked in the Ziller Valley for the 2018 Gauderfest, it’s safe to say you have to book in advance if you want to stay in the valley. Here are some recommendations.
Hotel Gasthof Bräu – What better place to stay than in the hotel that once belonged to the original “Gauders”. Also, if you choose the right room, you can watch the parade from your window. The hotel terrace isn’t a bad spot either. Click here to check availability and prices.
Camping Aufenfeld – If you’re traveling with kids, this is a great camp site with lots to do. And you don’t have to bring a tent or caravan. There are also mobile homes and apartments to rent. The Aschau train station, from where you can take the train to Zell am Ziller, is within walking distance. Read my full review of Camping Aufenfeld here.
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